There’s more to the ballot than the presidential election

This election year marks the longest list of state propositions on a single ballot since March 2000. It is accompanied by a 224-page voter guide, pertaining to 17 different complex initiatives. Only 42 percent of registered California voters cast a ballot back in 2014 on the last ballot measures.  It’s no secret that this presidential election is casting a shadow over immediate issues that Californians face.  These ballot measures will constitute the most pressing questions that confront Californians on Nov. 8.  Simply voting in the  presidential election will not be enough. Politics often seems impersonal, overwhelming and distant for voters of all stripes and ages.  Yet for a number of reasons, these ballot measures represent an authentic and powerful means for citizens to change their lives and state.

Only Californians, not the entire nation, determine the result. Because they’re voting in a state projected to go to Hillary Clinton in a landslide victory, many Californians feel that their votes will not  make a difference this election;  but in terms of these ballots measures, nothing could be further from the truth. 

A simple majority of California voters hold the power to, for example, legalize marijuana and to change the prices of prescription drugs.  No primaries, no nation-wide election, no electoral college; just Californians voting for issues that matter to Californians.

This is a direct referendum, not a vote to decide who will make these decisions.  In most elections, especially this presidential one, voters cast their ballots for men and women who they believe and hope will represent them and their needs.  But for a myriad of reasons, inaction often prevails, leading to a growing sense of frustration for many voters who see seats of government as homes of gridlock and partisanship.  Yet voters can find some solace on Nov. 8 because through marking 17 boxes they can register their opinions and send a message to Sacramento.

These measures are unique to California and thus will have a greater effect on residents than other elections — local, state or national — would have.  Covering topics from plastic bags to ammunition, these 17 proposals will impact the prison system, tax rates and almost everything in between.

Everyone has a stake in these measures.  For many students, marijuana legalization dominates the conversation.  Clocking in at a 35-year-high, roughly one in 17 college students in the U.S. smokes marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis.  The question becomes whether or not legalization will lead to a spike in usage, whether a tax on it could adequately fund awareness programs and if this law could reduce prison populations.  Some question whether this legalization would have much of an effect at all.

Another initiative seeks to essentially abolish the death penalty and replace it with life sentences while another seeks to expedite the execution process.  A particularly ambitious measure would borrow $9 billion in school bonds to invest in in K-12 schools and community colleges. A health-focused initiative calls for a price ceiling to cap the costs of prescription drugs while another seeks to prevent funds from being diverted from Medi-Cal, which provides free or low-cost health coverage for children and adults struggling to reach ends meet.  And interestingly, another polls voters on whether or not they want Californian lawmakers to repeal Citizens United, a national finance ruling that enables companies and unions to devote unlimited resources to fund federal campaigns.  Even though this initiative merely represents a glorified opinion poll, it could have national implications if Californians vote to repeal it and Californian lawmakers strive to achieve this at a federal level.

Students must cultivate awareness of the issues and motivation to register opinions.  Californians face 17 additional decisions on Nov. 8 and they owe it to themselves and to their state to research the initiatives and play an active role in shaping their communities through political participation.